Humankind is often torn between two paths: being blissfully happy or making enough money to survive. But what happens when we find the sliver of intersection between the two? Is it possible to chase one’s dreams while still putting food on the table?
Nick Sioufas found himself in this all-too-familiar situation in his sophomore year of college. Sioufas had been drawn to eco-sustainability and preservation from an early age. He was interested by the complex relationship between production and environmental preservation, pushing him to double major in environmental and natural resource economics and food and agribusiness management at the University of Delaware.
During his summer breaks, Sioufas interned at the Westchester County Parks Department and the New York Botanical Garden as a conservationist teacher and to study invasive species of plants, respectively, all while setting up a small, biodiverse garden in his backyard. But he couldn’t run from that daunting question, the one he was peppered with at every family function, the one he knew he eventually must answer: How do I continue doing what I love and still support myself financially?
Sioufas knew he was drawn toward agricultural policy, and pursuing a Juris Doctor felt like the way he’d be able to generate the most change. Having graduated from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University with a certificate in advanced environmental law, Sioufas laughingly draws the analogy of a Jedi’s battle between dark and light: “Just like a Jedi, a lawyer can choose to go toward the Sith and work for oligarchs pillaging our natural resources for personal interest and riches, or they can choose the path of the Jedi, or public service, to preserve our world in the interests of everyone.”
Immediately after graduating from law school, the newly minted attorney went to Albany, under a fellowship to assist lead state attorneys in the Department of Agriculture and Markets. But the pandemic forced Sioufas to work from home, nudging him south, back to his native New Rochelle. Sioufas transitioned from working with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to becoming the sustainability coordinator for the City of New Rochelle, a new position formed under the “climate emergency declaration” in a community-wide effort to combat the ecological crisis caused by climate change.
Inspired by an observation hive he’d seen through one of his professors at New Rochelle High School, Sioufas began reading about beekeeping and ordered some hives while expanding his garden. He added fruits and vegetables, such as figs and artichokes, as well as flowers, including sunflowers and lavender. For Sioufas, an escape into nature has always been “an irreplaceable outlet for the stress of bureaucratic responsibility.” Even though he is drawn, almost innately, to nature and its curing, the effects of his actions are inseparable from his motivations. Beekeeping is one of the most important contributions to the ecosystem any person can make, since bees are essential to our food-and-flower production, and the bee population has been steadily declining in recent decades.
Sioufas explains the process with childlike enthusiasm. “The bees do most of the work themselves. I just have to make sure their needs are met and that they can safely survive harsher seasonal conditions, in order to guide them to do their own work,” he explains. “It’s hard for me not to open the hive during the winter season, especially because I want to see how the bees are doing, but for their own safety I have to wait until the early spring before going into the hive.”
From there, once the temperature permits, Sioufas smokes the bees to relax them, and then, very gently and carefully, goes in to supply them with extra sugar and, if needed, extra space to produce more honey. Many times, especially after an unforgiving winter, he will have to order more bees, since about half of them usually die. And this particular beekeeper must be even more careful than the rest of us when he is around bees, since he is severely allergic to them. Yet this obstacle doesn’t deter him one bit. When asked if he is ever scared, Sioufas simply states that bees are generally very “delicate and gentile” creatures and that there is nothing to fear.
The reward of all this hard and patient work comes around midsummer, when Sioufas can harvest his first batch of honey. He explains that although it is possible to harvest up to four times a year — late spring, midsummer, late-summer, and early fall — he tends to harvest only twice a year (in midsummer and early fall), so as not induce too much stress on his bees. “I’m still a novice beekeeper, and there is a lot for me to learn, like which treatments are best for varroa mites or how to ensure a safe winter for the bees,” he explains. “But what is the most interesting to me is how the bees reflect a better version of us. Bees work together in a community effort, using natural resources to produce their honey, but they never abuse those resources.”
In fact, Sioufas’ greatest enjoyment of beekeeping is watching the life cycles of these communities working together to reinforce a valuable lesson: that we must cherish the environment we inhabit and never take it for granted.